Cruise ship trying to dock in New York hits adjoining pier

A Norwegian Cruise Line ship trying to dock along the Hudson River overshot its berth at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal and ended up striking an adjacent pier.

The May 25 accident involving Norwegian Spirit damaged concrete and steel support beams and a gangway track on Manhattan’s Pier 90. It caused minor damage to the bow of the vessel.

The 1,074-foot cruise ship was headed upriver with the intention of docking at Pier 88, just south of Pier 90, the Coast Guard said. The vessel was returning from an eight-day voyage to the Caribbean, with about 2,000 passengers and 1,100 crew.

As is routine, Norwegian Spirit made a single, uninterrupted sweeping turn to starboard in an attempt to slip into Pier 88. Unfortunately, the turn was too wide and the crew failed to back down in time, said Lt. Thomas Casey, a Coast Guard investigator.

“The starboard side of the vessel moors to the north side of Pier 88,†Casey said. “She is a large vessel, and it’s a pretty tight area. She wound up striking the side of Pier 90.â€

A local docking pilot was aboard Norwegian Spirit, but the ship’s captain — and not the pilot — was giving the commands at the conn.

“A pilot was on board, but the master actually opted to take the vessel in himself,†Casey said. “It’s his call to do that, if he wants to.â€

Stunned witnesses said they could see that the ship wasn’t turning sharply enough before it plowed into Pier 90. Passenger Edye Besner said she and her friends watched the whole episode from an observation deck near the top of the cruise ship.

“We were in the very front of the ship,†said Besner, of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. “We were watching him come in, and we just kept commenting that he was making the turn very, very wide, and we were saying, ‘He’s not going to make it! He’s not going to make it!’ Sure enough, he didn’t. He turned straight into (Pier 90).â€

At first, the ship appeared to be headed for a direct hit on Pier 90, said an amazed Chuck Casquarelli, a dockworker who was standing at the end of that pier preparing to tie up another cruise ship due in later. Eventually, Norwegian Spirit turned enough to glance off the side of the pier at perhaps a 20° angle.

“It looked like he was coming right at us. Finally, it started turning into the pier and I thought, no way is he going to make this turn,†Casquarelli said. “He was coming in at far too much of an angle, and he passed the point where he should have started turning. He should have stopped and backed up.â€

Casey said Norwegian Spirit had a tugboat on its aft starboard quarter earlier, but there’s not enough space for the tug to escort the ship all the way into the slip. The piers are 1,100 feet long and are 400 feet apart. The cruise ship is 106 feet wide.

“The tugboat was basically laying off her,†Casey said. “You use the tug to a certain degree, and then you have to release her and let her stand off.â€

Casey said the river current was an estimated 2.5 knots at the time of the accident, 0830. That’s a little stiffer than normal, he said.

The collision smashed a railing on the Titanic Deck platform of the Bahamas-flagged ship. There were creased metal and other cosmetic damage to the vessel’s nose, Casey said.

The 76,000-gross-ton vessel departed on its next scheduled voyage that afternoon, said AnneMarie Mathews, a spokeswoman with Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line. Mathews declined to say whether any of the ship’s officers were removed.

Mathews said Norwegian Spirit is “equipped with shafts, twin propellers, rudders and one stern thruster.â€

Casey said the Coast Guard will investigate the speed of the ship, its propulsion and maneuvering characteristics, the river and weather conditions, the use of the tug and who was on Norwegian Spirit’s bridge and how well they were trained.

“You’re taking a vessel of that size, and you’re taking it from operating against the current, to taking the current broadside, and then right into the slip,†Casey said.

The damage to Pier 90 occurred in an area where cars are parked on the top level. The New York City Department of Buildings said support beams were damaged, but there was no danger of collapse.

At the time of the accident, Pier 90 was undergoing renovations that will prepare it to accept larger cruise vessels, according to the terminal’s manager, the New York City Economic Development Corp. The collision damage will delay the reopening of the terminal, possibly for months. Details of a repair plan and estimated cost were unavailable.

By Professional Mariner Staff